First challenge: locate a book in my stash that met that criterion! I started reading back cover copy for book after book and quickly discovered that all heroines are “beautiful.” Seriously – pick up five books from your TBR pile and I predict all of them will describe the heroine as “beautiful.” Not “attractive,” “pretty,” or “lovely” – definitely beautiful.
I’d gone through 20 or more books before I got bored and went to the helpful "Less Than Beautiful" list on AAR. As it turned out, the easiest way to make a conventionally attractive protagonist “less than” is to give him or her some scars. Allowing for a
They meet, with a romance novel’s proper disregard for logic and common sense, in the shadows of the Drury Theatre. Fleur is there to sell her body (she believes her virtue is already lost to her) simply because it’s the last thing she has to sell. And, as fate would have it, she manages to pick the one night when Adam Kent is willing to abandon a long stretch without recourse to prostitutes. (I’ve written elsewhere about my distaste for Mary Balogh’s belief that there is only one word to describe a woman who accepts money in exchange for sexual favors or activity: whore. The Secret Pearl is as bad, if not worse, than A Precious Jewel on this point.)
But if you look past all the other things Fleur might have done to avoid the necessity of selling her body, you quite quickly get to all the fun parts of this book, many of which evoke a Jane Eyre sort of angsty-ness. Fleur gets a position as the governess to Adam Kent’s daughter, Pamela. That puts Fleur in service at Willoughby, the Duke of Ridgeway’s estate. His grace is married, but the wife, Sybil, isn’t locked in the attic, although she seems just as demented as Mrs. Rochester. And there’s a full-blown Gothic plot with Matthew Bradshaw, Fleur’s cousin and nemesis. And another Gothic plot with Adam’s half-brother Thomas.
|the role of Happy Endings, Dorsetshire is being played by Kimmeridge|
I lurve Houghton. He’s Bunter in the Dorothy Sayers books, who had a special knack for chatting up older women in his efforts to bring back information for Lord Peter Wimsey. Houghton’s a behind the scenes Hercule Poirot, well able to ferret out the very juiciest gossip necessary for a successful resolution of Fleur’s troubles. And Houghton serves as a wonderful Greek Chorus vis à vis the duke’s feelings for, and about, Fleur, whom Houghton believes is his grace’s ladybird (see? Houghton knows the correct form of address for a female of dubious sexual virtue in the care and keeping of an aristocrat...!). Quite late in the book, Houghton thinks for the very first time, “She was not his grace’s ladybird after all. She was his love.” It is then that Houghton pities the duke.
I would have loved the Duke of Ridgeway more if it weren’t for two things. First, he’s not the Duke of Bedwyn, who does the supercilious, omniscient, and omnipotent agent-of-justice-rendered-powerless-by-love so much better. Frankly, Ridgeway takes too long to solve stuff he could and should have solved sooner. Second, he doesn’t seem to love himself enough. He’s far too quick to settle for no loaf at all. By the time he’s on the outskirts of Happy Endings, he seems to dawdle. (Well, to be fair, Fleur dawdles too. It’s a long enough book; I have no idea why, when all obstacles on the road to Happy Endings have been cleared, they dawdle. Propriety’s sake? Or sheer stupidity?)
Now, I know this post reads as a rather mocking commentary on the book, so you're forgiven for thinking I didn't like it. Actually, I gobbled it up. But when I’d read the last page, it was done. No need to reread the ending or the angsty-est bits or otherwise wallow in the book’s many pleasures. A wonderful read; now on to something else...
So my ultimate impression of The Secret Pearl? It’s Chinese food: delicious and exciting, but not all that memorable.